Living Lite

Katherine's Holiday Market Recipe: Sweet Potato Flan with Vanilla Bean

November 13, 2012

My very luscious version of a "flan," a custard dessert, is lighter and simpler than most, and highlights one of the most nutritious seasonal foods - the sweet potato, and a favorite flavor: Vanilla. The vanilla's quality is essential to the flavor, so I buy special plump, juicy California vanilla beans - the kind top chefs use - from Cook's.** Sprinkle the flan with toasted pecans for a bit of crunch. Make in six or eight “personal” soufflé dishes, or in one large dish. Perfect as a holiday dessert!

Today is the 12th "Katherine's Market Recipe," in The Georgetown Dish, all of which are designed to be delicious, easy, quick, family-friendly, nutritious (heart-healthy & diabetes-friendly), and to highlight produce found at our local Farmers Markets this week. At your Farmers Market, you'll find produce picked at peak ripeness, which means maximum flavor, texture and nutrition. You're also helping save the environment when you buy at your Farmers Market. Here's how...

For my "Light Sweet Potato Flan with Vanilla Bean," I recommend you buy your sweet potato at the Glover Park - Burleith Farmers Market on Saturday, or Dupont Circle's Fresh Farm Market (open year-round) on Sunday. 

**Cook's Vanilla

And don't forget the Cook's Vanilla for your Flan and other holiday baking. I first discovered this special vanilla in Georgetown's Griffin Market (now closed). It peaked my interest because former Washington Post food reporter (and longtime Georgetown resident), Walter Nicholls, endorsed it and provided it to Griffin. Apparently, Walter has teamed up with Paso Robles, California's Cook Flavoring Company, a family-owned business. "They personally monitor the cultivation and harvest of its vanilla beans in a way that few can match and no one can exceed, extracting the flavor by the same slow, cold extraction method the family has been using for almost a century," said Walter.  The best pastry chefs in town seem to use it: Baked & Wired, Dolcezza, Black Salt, CoCo Sala, CityZen, the Hay Adams hotel and all of Jose Andres restaurants, to name a few. Beans and extract are available locally at Rodman’s on Wisconsin Avenue.

Cook's Vanilla Extract and Beans (Photo by: Carolyn Lochhead) Cook's Vanilla Extract and Beans


Katherine's Light Sweet Potato Flan with Vanilla Bean
Author, “Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations” (LifeLine Press, 2011)

Serves 6 – 8

Unsalted butter or butter spray for the ramekins*
2 Cups 1% Lowfat Milk
2/3 cup Granulated Sugar
½ Vanilla Bean, halved lengthwise
¾ pound Sweet Potato (1 large)
2 Eggs
1 Egg Yolk
1Tablespoon Warm Molasses (Optional)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) Chopped, Toasted Pecans (Optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place sweet potato on the oven rack and let cook for about 45 to 60 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Use long tongs to pull out of the oven. When warm to the touch, remove the peel. Mash the potato flesh and measure out ¾ cup.

Turn oven temperature down to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter or spray the insides of 6 or 8 ½-cup ramekins* or a 6-cup glass Pyrex bowl or soufflé dish.

In a medium saucepan, bring milk, sugar, and vanilla bean slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat. Pull out the vanilla bean and scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk mixture. Return the pod to the pot and let sit for 15 minutes to let flavors blend.

Meanwhile, puree the 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk with the mashed sweet potato (I use a Cuisinart Smart Stick immersion hand blender). Add the sweet potato mixture to the warm milk mixture and puree until well blended – most easily done (and less messy) with an immersion hand blender. For a smooth custard, try not to create too many bubbles.

Pour the liquid into six or eight ramekins, or into the 6-cup soufflé dish. Set the soufflé dish(es) into a large baking pan and add boiling water until it is halfway up the sides of the soufflé dish(es). Place in the center of the oven and bake until slightly wobbly in the middle – about 40 to 45 minutes for the individual ramekins or 1 hour if you’re using the larger soufflé dish.

To serve: Leave the custards in the water bath until they are not too hot to handle or until ready to serve. Slide a knife around the inside edge of the individual dishes and turn them onto serving plates. Or scoop out 6 or 8 servings from the large soufflé dish. Over each serving, drizzle the warm molasses and sprinkle chopped, toasted pecans.

*A “ramekin” is an oven-proof ceramic or glass serving dish, usually round, but sometimes in novelty shapes, ie, hearts or ovals.

The entire recipe = 1,000 calories (1,242 calories with molasses and pecans). Divided into 6 servings = 167 calories per serving (207 with molasses and pecans). Eight servings = 125 calories per serving (155 with molasses and pecans).

Katherine’s “Light Sweet Potato Flan with Vanilla Bean” was adapted from award-winning cookbook author, Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets.”

Sweet Potatoes, considered one of the "Super Foods," are loaded with Beta-Carotene, the orange pigment which is a potent anti-oxidant. It is important for your immune system, your skin, your vision, bones, reproduction, and may reduce cancer risk. But sweet potatoes provide so much more; they're also high in fiber, vitamins C, E, the B vitamins, and minerals such as potassium, manganese, magnesium and iron. Sweet potatoes' origins date back thousands of years in Peru, became a favorite of Christopher Columbus once he landed in America, and grow particularly well in the American South, where they have become a staple.

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Symposium on Benedictine Spirituality Nov. 16 & 17

November 7, 2012

Sister Joan Chittister with Maria Shriver and Bono (Photo by: Leadership Conference of Women Religious) Sister Joan Chittister with Maria Shriver and Bono

Every day I notice that conflict, confusion, and isolation are familiar feelings for so many of us. We are over-scheduled, multi-tasking automatons running from one appointment to another—when not glued to our computers, smartphones, televisions, and cars.

And we are too busy.  Too busy to exercise, eat right, sleep enough, relax, or socialize with family and friends. Too busy to spend time enriching our lives with new subjects to study, engaging in creative hobbies, or volunteering in our communities. Too busy for living lives of balance and fulfillment. Our lifestyles are wreaking havoc with our health, happiness and the very fabric of our society. What to do?

I, for one, have turned to the 6th century wisdom of Benedict of Nursia because "Life is a teacher of universal truths" whether you live in the 6th or the 21st century,” writes Joan Chittister, OSB*, a Benedictine nun, in her book, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages. The hard-won wisdom passed down from Benedict is as alive and applicable today as it was when it was written 1,500 years ago, as evidenced by the scholars who have studied Benedict and his wisdom through the ages.

Benedict—Saint Benedict as we now know him—was living in Italy at a time of chaos, in a society ravaged by war. Tired of the decadent culture surrounding him in Rome where he was studying, he sought meaning and purpose in his life (sound familiar?). He left to live a simple life in the countryside where other spiritual seekers found him. He eventually founded 12 monasteries, which resulted in his Rule of Benedict, a succinct manual (just 93 pages), described by Chittister in her book’s introduction as a guide to "the logic of daily life lived well."

"Benedictine spirituality is the spirituality of the 21st century because it deals with the issues facing us now—stewardship, relationships, authority, community, balance, work, simplicity, prayer, and spiritual and psychological development," writes Chittister, who formerly headed a Benedictine monastery. "Its currency lies in the fact that Benedictine spirituality offers more a way of life and an attitude of mind than it does a set of religious prescriptions."

Embracing this wisdom, Benedictine communities, monastic and non-monastic, have sprung up all over the world. In fact, one such organization, The Friends of Saint Benedict, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is offering its First Annual Symposium on Benedictine Spirituality on November 16 & 17featuring Sister Joan*, and a roundtable discussion with other Benedictine scholars.

She notes, "The Benedictine way of life is credited with having saved Europe from the ravages of the Dark Ages.  In an age bent again on its own destruction, the world could be well served by asking how."

Join me and learn more about how the ancient wisdom of Benedict can be used to help us to create calm in a world of chaos, offering love and acceptance in a world of hate and violence at the Friends of Saint Benedict's  Symposium on Benedictine Spirituality on November 16 & 17. 


*Joan Chittister, OSB, former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania and a leader among women monastics, is an internationally known speaker and writer, author of 45 books, and a voice of clarity on spirituality, women’s empowerment, justice and the search for meaning.  Her ideas—carried in books, columns, and Internet platforms--   have encouraged people inside and outside the church, people in prisons, people in work and out of work, and people facing every conceivable life transition.  She serves as Co-Chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the UN,  facilitating a worldwide network of women peace-builders.

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Experts Read the Tea Leaves: 7 Tips for Tea Drinkers

November 1, 2012

A tea timeout is my favorite way to de-stress a day. It feels so civilized to relax with a warm cup of jasmine-scented green tea or perhaps the traditional English treat, black tea with milk - "white," as they say. No wonder the fathers of our country took up arms for their right to drink it. Still, with all the myths we hear about nutrition, I've always wondered, is tea as healthful as many people believe?

Although tea has been enjoyed around the world for some 5,000 years, it wasn't until relatively recently that scientists started searching for the facts.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, epidemiological studies - the kind following large populations' eating and disease patterns - found tea drinking might be associated with better health. But no clear cause-and-effect relationship between health and tea was established.

Recent studies have been promising. What did they find? Just about every cell in the body could potentially benefit from tea - with virtually no downsides. Read about the health benefits of tea and my "7 Tips for Tea Drinkers" in Thursday's Washington Post.

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